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Full text of "The Heart: its Sacredness, its Worth, its Destiny: a sermon preached at Dorchester, on the Sunday folloeing the Decease of Mrs. Rebecca Stetson"

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SEKMON 



PREACHED AT DORCHESTER, 



ON THE SUNDAY FOLLOWING THE DECEASE 



MRS. REBECCA STETSON 



BY NATHANIEL HALL. 



Pnntrtr for Pribate Stse. 



BOSTON: 

PRINTED BY JOHN WILSON AND SON, 

22, School, Street. 
1836. 



TO 



THE SISTERS 



OF 



THE BELOVED PARISHIONER AND FRIEND, 



WHOM IT UNWORTHILY COMMEMORATES, 



&l)is HDiscoure*, 



PRINTED AT THEIR REaUEST, 



gs ^gpetiMg $n«rifo& 



BY THE AUTHOE. 



SERMON. 



Psalm xxii. 26. — " Your heart shall live for ever.' 



There is something, then, that does not die ! It is a 
joy to believe it. There are moods when nothing 
seems abiding ; when death seems empowered with a 
universality of sway ; when, one after another, object, 
resource, faculty, fail us, and we ask despondingly, 
" What next % Is there aught unfailing, permanent, 
around us, within us % Is not the universe one 
wide-spread sepulchre, as regards man and the very 
constituents of his humanity ? " Yes, there is 
something that does not die. " The heart," — by a 
manifold assurance, — " the heart shall live for 



ever." 



Let us, first, give our thoughts to the sacredness 
and worth of that for which such a destiny is as- 
serted. 



The heart has a peculiar sacredness, as that portion 
of our nature, which, more directly and worthily than 
any other, images and reveals to us its divine Origi- 
nal; in which the essence of the Divinity, love, 
reflects itself and dwells. " God is love ; " and by 
that affection in us, as by no other attribute of our 
being, does he communicate himself, does he gives us 
the power to resemble, and thus to know him. The 
bond of our filial relationship with him, the feature 
that marks our heavenly parentage, is not the intel- 
lect, but the heart. Between the mind of Deity and 
that of man there can be but an imperfect resem- 
blance, — between the originating Fountain of all 
truth, and the faculties which but dimly and labo- 
riously discern it ; but, with the moral and spiritual 
affections of man and those of God, it is otherwise. 
The difference here is not in kind, but only in degree. 
We love as God loves. The affection, in its essence, 
as a quality of being, is the same ; and so, as rank- 
ing foremost among the things of the spirit, an 
apostle has placed love. " Now abideth faith, hope, 
charity ; but the greatest of these is charity." How 
truly so, when, as I have said, it reveals to us God ; 
when it makes possible our fellowship with him ; when 
it is our pathway by which to find him ! By no road 



that the understanding can trace or travel will he 
stand spiritually revealed to us. To attempt thus to 
reach him is but to lose ourselves in a deeper dark- 
ness. " He that loveth not," whatever else he may 
know, " knoweth not God;" but "he that dwelleth 
in love dwelleth in God, and God in him." 

And consider what care God has taken, as seen in 
the arrangements and relationships of life, for the 
heart's culture and expansion ! How he has ordained, 
that, even before it has come into conscious exist- 
ence, other hearts should bend above it in tenderest 
love, and draw forth, by their endearments, the first 
sweet smile that signalizes its awakening conscious- 
ness ! Home is man's earliest school ; and its earliest 
lesson is of love. Each dear relationship is an 
appointed agency to call into intenser life and to a 
wider embrace the unfolding affection ; each friendly 
heart a proffered branch for its outstretching tendrils 
to inclasp, that it may mount the higher, and hang 
its glowing flowerets nearer to the sky. Were home 
what God designed it, what it might and should be, 
the heart would need no other than its own genial 
instrumentalities to train it to its deathless life. 
Within an atmosphere of truth and love, nursing it 
to a continually stronger and holier growth, and 



8 

intercepting not, by any cloud of earthliness, the sun- 
light and the dew of heaven, it would expand in living 
beauty, be raised from human objects to divine, and 
receive a growing fitness for its heavenly home. But 
such, alas! home is not; and that divine capacity, so 
full of God, the dearest of his gifts, is, how sadly, 
repressed and marred in its unfolding life ! Nay, to 
what a large extent is the domestic circle, is the 
wider one of friendship, is society at large, a school 
of selfishness rather than of love ! We are educated, 
how commonly, to subordinate our affections to our 
lusts, our love for others to our love of self, — 
educated by that most effective of teachers, example, 
at that most impressible of periods, youth. We are 
educated, and in our turn are educators, to the same 
wretched end. But God still keeps the heart within 
that earliest school, and, by its sterner discipline, 
softens and subdues it there. Sickness, — what a 
power has that, when it enters our homes, — by the 
solicitudes it excites, the memories it vivifies, the mi- 
nistrations to which it calls, — to break the spell of 
the heart's indifference, and win its affections to their 
truest life ! And death, — oh, what a power has 
that, as it lays its icy hand on one who has sat with 
us, through many years, by board and fireside ; or, if 



9 

not many, the stream of whose life has run mingling 
with ours, brightening and blessing it more than 
we had known ! How then is every thought of self 
put by, in very shame, in very forgetfulness ! How 
do we realize, as never before, the preciousness of 
that vanishing life ! Its love, its sympathy, its com- 
panionship, its very presence, how dear, how indis- 
pensable, to us ! How mean appear the objects, how 
barren the pursuits, for the sake of which, perchance, 
we had neglected it ! The farewell whispers of those 
pallid lips ; the unutterable meaning of that filming 
eye, as it turns upon us its last conscious gaze ; the 
parting pressure of the hand that so often, in trustful 
affection, has been laid within our own ; these, and 
all the solemn incidents of that closing scene, — how 
is the heart quickened by them to its intensest and 
its truest life ! It is a dread experience ; gladly would 
we be spared it : but God is in it, and lays a hand of 
blessing on the heart he pains. And although the 
sway of selfishness may but for a time be broken, 
and the heart yield itself as before to its unworthy 
thraldom, it does it against the felt persuasions of 
religion, the lingering echoes of departed voices, yea, 
against its own uplifted plea. 

Consider, again, the heart — would you know more 



10 

fully its sacredness and worth — as a source of the 
most efficient moral power. Most efficient, I may 
safely say. For what has so wrought in the world, 
for beneficent and holy ends, as human love % What 
has so moved and swayed to goodness as the utter- 
ances of the heart, — whether in sermon or in song, 
in the impassioned plea of the forum, or the simple 
recital of the wayside, or the gentle pleadings of 
home] We talk of "eloquence," that most abused 
of terms. But where is eloquence % Not with him, 
who, though accomplished in all the arts of oratory, 
has no warmth within his heart. Does he move 
men ] With all his brilliancy, all his gifts, all his 
strivings to feign the fire he lacks, does he move them 
to any lofty issues % One word of genuine feeling is 
more potent than all his arts. The simplest utter- 
ance of a fervent heart will sway more surely to truth 
and right than the most rhetorical appeal that owns 
no higher parentage than the intellect, and no holier 
baptism than the turbid waters of self-love. Plow 
often are we made to know that the spoken truth . is 
hindered of its legitimate and best effect, because 
accompanied, either by the coldness of indifference, or 
by the heats of passion ! How apt are we to forget, 
in addressing others, though we never fail to feel it 



11 

when addressed, that the exhortation, the rebuke, the 
counsel, the warning, — whatever the form in which 
the mind expresses itself, — to have the power desired 
for it, must come from the fulness of a sincere and 
feeling heart ; that the arrows of truth fail oftenest of 
their mark, not through lack of graceful polish, nor 
of vigor in the arm that sends them, but because they 
are not feathered with love ! And what a source of 
power is the heart as a generator of thought ; as an 
incentive to action ; as throwing a revealing light on 
the pathway of moral truth, farther than the intellect 
alone could pierce ; as prompting and nerving to deeds 
of nobleness which no motive of self-interest could have 
achieved; as firing the heroism of the public martyr, 
and the no less than martyr's heroism with which, in 
many a private and secluded sphere, duty is chosen, 
and privation suffered, and toils endured, and trials 
borne! The noblest virtues of the Christian life, 
active and passive, are but the bloom and fruitage of 
the spirit of love, of the divine sympathies and affec- 
tions of the heart. 

Consider, again, the heart as a source of happi- 
ness. Whence come life's truest satisfactions I Not 
where mostly they are sought, — from bodily com- 
forts, from sensual gratifications, from ease and 



12 

fulness and power; nor from the attainment of 
knowledge, the triumphs of intellect ; nor yet from 
human friendship and adulation and esteem; but 
from the exercise and enlargement of the heart's sym- 
pathies and affections. What, tell me, is the secret 
of a happy home % Its costly adornments % its 
abounding resources of external good? its freedom 
from the ordinary cares and privations and adversities 
of life % Nay : but the presence within it of glowing 
hearts; the banishment from it of all personal and 
selfish aims, — all jealousies, envies, distrusts. What 
a sad mistake, even on the score of happiness, and 
how continually made, — that of educating the intel- 
lect with assiduous care, and letting the heart go 
uncultivated and uncared for ! As if knowledge 
could gain for one a satisfying joy, or the conscious- 
ness of talent or genius, or the fame or the gain of 
them, or any thing, with a narrow and unloving 
heart! As if that were a worthy education, which 
leaves the divinest capacities of the nature stinted and 
depressed, beneath the overlaying weight of formality 
and custom and worldliness and self-love ! Surely, if 
we have ever given way to a purely disinterested 
emotion; if we have ever gone out of ourselves, 
really and truly, for others' sake ; if we have ever 



13 

obeyed, in any worthy sense, the Christian law of 
love, — we must have had visitations, though tran- 
sient, of a blessedness such as no success, no gain, no 
fulness of earthly good, could have given. And wnat 
were this blessedness, if the law and the spirit of love, 
instead of having within us an occasional and tempo- 
rary predominance, were the consecrating influence of 
our life! Alas, that the problem should yet be 
unsolved to our experience! 

And, now, consider the heart as, in the expressive 
simplicity of the text, to " live for ever." "With what 
an added worth and sacredness is it invested as bear- 
ing within it the element of immortality ! Surely such 
is its heritage. That which, as we have seen, makes us 
kindred with the Infinite, is the door of his approach 
to us, the source of noblest power, of truest blessed- 
ness, bears, in this very fact, the pledge and charter 
of its onliving life ; yea, the myriad voices, without us 
and within, that chant their affirmation to this great 
hope of immortality, find their key-note in the affec- 
tions. But apart from such witness, and from that 
which meets us so clear and full on the pages of the 
New Testament, let me point you to what is furnished 
in the well-known fact, — the enduring life of the 
affections to the very verge of mortal existence, the 



14 

onshining of their heavenly star above the shadows 
wherein each mental light is, wholly or partially, 
in wrapped, — instances, known, I doubt not, to all of 
us, where they have increased in purity and intense- 
ness as the outward failed, and have put on their 
holiest beauty and all-commanding strength beneath 
the infirmities of extremest age and the chill shadows 
of impending death. Fact beautiful in itself, and 
beautifully prophetic, — the tenacity with which me- 
mory retains, even to the latest of life's evening hours, 
the scenes and incidents of earliest days. Though 
darkness is resting on all nearer objects, the images 
of life's morning are revealed in a distinctness of 
outline and minuteness of detail, as if things of a 
surrounding present, rather than a long-distant past. 
And no less tenacious is the heart's inclasping hold 
of the object of its earlier as of its later love. Not 
as a reminiscence, but as a fact of its present con- 
sciousness, does it feel the throbbing pulses of what- 
ever true affection had bound it to the dear-departed 
of by-gone days. And what does all this foretell, if 
not that " the heart shall live for ever " 1 Why 
should love so burn on, and burn brighter even to 
the last, if it is not to be insphered in immorta- 
lity? 



15 

The immortality of the affections has been touch- 
ingly foreshown to us in the life of that aged member 
of our church, by so many of us venerated and beloved, 
the long-looked-for event of whose departure has at 
length occurred. My theme was chosen with refer- 
ence to her. Her life expressed it to me. To a 
degree the most uncommon did she live in her affec- 
tions. Loving, gentle, tender, pure, they swayed her 
being ; they characterized and marked it. Liberally 
must they have been sown there by the Infinite Hand ; 
and no blight from a surrounding world seemed ever 
to have fallen upon them to mar their loveliness or 
restrain their growth. There seemed no element in 
her nature, no tendency, no thought, that was inhar- 
monious with love, — a childlike, self-forgetful, all- 
embracing love. And it lived, even to the last, a 
manifested life. Through bodily prostration and 
mental enfeeblement it lived. Memory, save of 
things in her life's distant past, the reasoning, the 
reflective powers, had long been darkened; but 
the affections lived on, an unclouded life. They 
lived thus even unto death, and, when the tongue 
was mute, smiled forth the kindness which they could 
not speak. And shall we name it death, — that change 
so welcome, so blissful, so life-imparting, as our faith 



16 

assures us it must needs have been 1 — the release of 
the spirit from its burdening infirmities, the call to 
come upward to its heavenly home. Change blissful 
indeed! To find the night all vanished, and the 
morning come, — morning so holy, so fair, so beauti- 
ful ; to awake from so long a slumber of the active 
powers, to the conscious possession of them, in a 
greater vigor than of their earthly prime; from 
so long an imprisonment, to a freedom unknown 
before, and inconceivable in its inspiring largeness ; 
from so long an isolation, to the surrounding presence 
and embracing sympathies of celestial associates, — to 
roam with them the fields of a boundless universe, 
and share with them the joys of an ever-living, ever- 
loving, ever-expanding and ascending Heart.